2011-04-02Hindsight being 20/20 below is a list of things which we should have thought of or planned for before starting to avoid mistakes or to make the process easier and how we worked our way out of trouble when we found it.
2011-04-02Our big issue with our materials comes from not looking closely enough when buying.
Our MDF sheets where not all 18mm thick, some where 16mm. It's an easy mistake to make when you're exited about buying the pieces to finally start construction, however make sure you take a tape measure with you and check that the thickness is right before you buy
This problem was only found when we did a test assembly after cutting out all out panels. We found that some bits weren't what we expected and that using a piece of off cut to get out supports set out at the right distance from the edge of the cabinet wasn't working properly.
We did manage to fix the problem by realigning our pieces and changing the size of the cabinet (very slightly). 2mm might sound like small enough to ignore, however if you have cut it all out very carefully to fit with no gaps (or only the gaps you intend to have in the case of door openings, etc.) and now it doesn't fit and you can see daylight through your cabinet!
2011-04-02Safty is important. Just becasue it's a home project don't forget it.
Eye Protection: MDF dust gets everywhere! make sure to keep it out of your eyes. It will irritate and sting. Get some safety goggles (or if your like me and wear prescription lenses and find safety goggles over your glasses interfere with your vision, wear your close fitting prescription sunnies to keep it out of your eyes).
Ear Protection: Many of the tools you will need are very loud. Circular saws, jigsaws and especially routers can permanently damage your hearing. "But for one project I'll be fine" may be partly true, but once gone your hearing won't come back. The tiny hairs in your ear that receive the sound vibrations only require a little too much movement and they bend or snap and they don't regrow. Don't take the risk to save a couple of $ on ear plugs.
Nose and Throat Protection: Dust masks are great. I do recommend wearing them (even if I don't most of the time). The fine MDF particles can find their way into your nasal passage, throat and lungs and cause lots of coughing and irritation. Better to be safe than sorry.
Clean Up: Make sure to clean up regularly. MDF dust gets very slippery on the floor and can cause falls (made worse if you are handling power tools at the time). When you start to slide or can't find your tools (either from dust of clutter) it's time to stop work for a half hour and clean up.
Consideration for those near by: Ok so not strictly a safety issue, but make sure to be considerate of your neighbours. Don't use power tools late at night and try not to let your MDF dust blow over the fence into their yard.
2011-04-02We made a few mistakes in out planning, first of which was OVER THINKING.
I have had training as an Industrial Designer (3 years at UNI after which I dropped out), and as such was in charge of planing the cabinet. We spent at least 6 months coming up with ideas and drawing up plans. Most of this was a waste! I would recommend having a look around at other people's plans online, spend maybe a week drawing up your own, then make a model, small scale is optional (but makes a really cool pencil holder) but defiantly a full scale model. Then when you realise that you forgot to check the width of the door it will need to fit through and it won't go, or it's too tall to have under your light fitting, or too small to play on comfortably redo your plans. Check it with your mates, that it's going to be a comfortable height to play on, etc. and build!
We spent too long talking about it and planning so that when it came time to buy things and start work that the price and availability of materials we had checked had changed and we needed to look for new suppliers.
When it's something this awesome, don't put it off!
Still on planning and we come to the test assembly.
When it comes time to check that your cabinet all fits together properly and doesn't rock or lean in any significant way make sure to measure and rule for your screw holes!
This is a big one that we stuffed up. if you find yourself using phrases like "it will do for the purposes of the exorcise" you are doing it wrong! That's fine to say for the cardboard model, but anything to do with your final cabinet should not have words like that associated with it!
We didn't align our screw holes properly, meaning it looked messy, which in it's self we could have got away with in the end due to a black base paint job and the black screw caps. But the bigger problem with it was that some of our screws didn't get a proper purchase in out pine supports. While the pine supports are definitely overkill for the project (an advantage of the MDF is its lack of grain meaning that the screws can get a really good grip and it will stand up on its own without and internal bracing, assuming you have made it properly and use enough screws), we have decided to use them for piece of mind and assistance in locating pieces for assembly.
Make sure you check where each piece is going to go, rule a line along the screw lines to make sure they are all straight, and evenly space your screws to make it strong and look neat.
To hide our mistake we got some body filler to fill in all of our test assembly screw holes, sanded it all back (a normal part of the building process before painting anyway) and re marked and drilled our screw holes. Not a major problem, but something we should have thought of first.
One more on planing, order your assembly process.
What I mean by this is decide which pieces are going to be screwed together first to make the job easy for yourself. This will depend on a few things, largely what tools you have available (right angle clamps would be very useful!) and how many sets of hands you have.
Most arcade cabinet project websites I have seen start their assembly by laying their side panel flat, screwing in the support pieces then mounting either the opposite side (for some unknown reason) or attaching the back/floor/etc. to the first side then putting the final side on.
Of the two options I would go for the second, for simplicities sake, and we did for the test assembly. However after attaching a couple of panels it became clear that it would be far easier to join the smaller pieces first (floor to bottom back, top to top back, etc.) to begin with, then attach those to a side panel. Having some free standing pieces to work with and build on makes the whole project much easier. Especially if you have fewer tools and or friends.